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Bank explodes; mobs grab cash

©Associated Press
February 3, 2003

LAGOS, Nigeria -- A powerful explosion tore apart a bank and dozens of apartments above it Sunday in Nigeria's crowded commercial capital, killing at least 40 people and trapping many others.

Police were investigating a range of motives, including that the blast was part of a bank robbery plot. Looting and bloody fights broke out as hundreds of young men grabbed fistfuls of cash from the leveled bank and battled over them.

In the chaos, trapped victims cried for rescue and onlookers wailed as rescuers retrieved bloody, broken bodies.

The Red Cross said searchers had recovered more than 30 dead and 32 injured. Ten of the wounded died later at Lagos General Hospital, hospital workers said.

Many more victims were believed caught in the rubble, and the death toll could rise, said Emmanuel Ijewere, president of the Nigeria Red Cross.

The blast occurred about 12:30 p.m. on Lagos Island, a crowded high-rise district of banks and other businesses packed side-by-side with poor, densely populated residential blocks.

The four-story bank building collapsed, bringing three floors of apartments crashing down on the ground floor Prudent Bank. Fires flared briefly after the blast, which could be heard for miles and sent a tower of smoke into the sky.

Two adjoining buildings were heavily damaged, and buildings for blocks around had shattered windows and other marks of the explosion.

Residents said some victims had been blocks away from the bank building.

"My uncle was in the balcony of our house talking with a friend and the force of the explosion threw them down," resident Remi Oyebanji said. "They're both dead."

Resident Omololu Kassim, who was helping carry the victims, said he saw 40 dead and as many injured. Local radio put the toll at 50 or more. The blast came as many were at church, preventing an even higher death toll.

Hundreds of police surrounded the damaged neighborhood, dispersing the looters and forcing back thousands of onlookers. Cranes and other heavy equipment moved in to lift the heavy concrete slabs and other debris.

Survivors bundled together what possessions they could and set off in search of safe housing.

Lagos Island is one of two islands that, with the mainland, make up this city of 12-million. Congestion on the island has sent many businesses to other parts of Lagos in recent years.

On Jan. 27, 2002, a series of explosions at an army munitions depot in Lagos killed more than 1,000 people. Hundreds of them drowned after jumping in a canal to escape the blast.

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